“Alexis.” I pushed outwards to get Mike away from me, but it wasn’t him. Ms Gregory frowned at my ineffectual pawing at her.
“Oh good, you’re awake.” She said, holding the back of her hand to my forehead. “You’re awfully clammy – I hope it’s not an infection coming on. Do you feel hot, cold?”
“Oh, no,” I replied, the light making me blink, “just a bad dream that’s all.”
She handed me a glass of water and reminded me I hadn’t drunk much in the last few days. That I needed to keep hydrated. I took it with both hands, but had to concentrate to keep the water level, and my hands steady.
Having her close to me, I began to realise that I really didn’t smell that good. I hadn’t had a shower since… before. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I’d woken up wearing some clean loose fitting pyjamas like Beth had lent me, far too big of course.
How had I gotten into these? I didn’t want to think about it.
That and how dirty must I have been when I arrived considering everything that happened. My cheeks flushed. It took me a long time, or at least it felt like a long time, to build up the courage to ask if I could use the shower.
Mz Gregory said yes, of course. I didn’t expect her to refuse, but it was still difficult for me to ask.
“We need to get your dressings off first.” She said, nodding towards a stool in the kitchen. “Come here. Sit.”
I clutched the shirt, holding it free for her to unwrap the bandages around my chest. The sticky patch on my back pulled at my skin as it was peeled it back. A collection of ‘hmm’ noises followed and her dry fingers touch me tenderly.
I gritted my teeth, but it wasn’t unbearable. The broken ribs were the worst part, a constant ache and stabing when I took each breath or moved with any purpose. Respite was curling up in the chair half asleep. Unless I coughed, that was agony.
My back and face throbbed. It felt hot, like I’d been out in the sun and got burned. The itching was awful. I had to consciously refrain from rubbing and scratching.
In all, I’d expected it to be more uncomfortable. There were other aches and pains: in my knee where I must have fallen and my shoulder which must have been wrenched. That they were beginning to annoy me suggested I was ok. I’d only begun to notice them now, so the rest couldn’t be that bad.
Mostly, I felt tired. Bone tired, like I could sleep for a week.
When she seemed satisfied with my back she moved onto my face, gently tearing back the dressing. The glue pulling my skin made me hiss but she was fast and efficient while somehow managing to be tender.
The air was cool on my skin, my face light.
“It seems to have stopped bleeding. The glue is holding it closed. You should be fine in the shower but don’t touch it except very gently. No rubbing or scratching. You don’t want to separate the skin and open the wound again.” She said, flashing me a Teacher Look.
I nodded my compliance. However itchy it was I didn’t want to upset her after everything she’d done for me, regardless of damaging myself.
She showed me the bathroom, a towel to use (It doesn’t matter if you get blood on it, it’s old) and how to work the small shower. I was sure I could work it out myself but I let her talk.
Then she left me. I locked the door, and tested it to make sure the lock was working. It still didn’t feel enough. I avoided the mirror, making sure to stand where I wouldn’t see myself in it while I undressed before stepping into the warm water. I loved hot showers.
I was still a bit unsteady on my feet so I sat in the small tub at the base and rested my forehead on my knees, turned slightly so not to put pressure on my cut. The water ran down my body. I could almost feel it wash away all the grime, sweat, blood and… other stuff.
After periods of rest I’d launch a daring quest to seek out soap or shampoo and attempt a bit more involved cleaning, ignoring the protests of my body begging at me to keep still and go back to sleep. Eventually I ran out of things to do, but it was so pleasant I sat and let myself stew.
There was a gentle knock at the door. “Are you ok in there Alexis? Do you need a hand?”
I would have jumped to my feet, except I was in no fit state; my limbs failed to respond to my kneejerk reaction.
“No! Thank you!” I said, scrambling to switch off the water.
I dried off carefully, making sure not to touch my back or face hoping they would dry off quickly in the air. However old the towels were I didn’t want to ruin them. A neat folded pair of pyjamas Mz had left for me sat on the side. Should I just put the old ones on? I didn’t want to get blood on a new pair. But the old ones would need washing. Would I prefer a guest to be unclean or create a bit of extra laundry? I wasn’t about to go walking around without them… Hell, I grabbed them. She left them out for me; that is an implied request.
I listened for a while before opening the door. All I could hear was the TV – I didn’t know what I was really listening for but it all sounded normal. Mz Gregory was at the counter in the kitchen going through one of the bags she’d brought and sorting things out into a plastic box. It looked like bandages and stuff, tubes of salve, plasters and things like that.
“I usually keep such a good stock but I haven’t gone through it for ages, so much was out of date or mislaid…” She said with her back to me.
“It looks like you have everything you could ever need to me.” I said. There did seem to be an impossible amount of stuff packed into such a compact box.
“There is always something you are missing when you need it most…” She sounded a bit solemn saying that, like it was from experience. I decided not to push her on the subject. She grabbed a small pile of familiar looking paraphernalia. “Here, let’s get you sorted.”
Re-applying everything wasn’t so bad. She seemed so professional about it all, like it was something she did every day. There was a tube of some kind of salve, antiseptic I guessed which was administered to my cuts before carefully reapplying the bandage. She had me take my top off to wrap up ribs. I wasn’t used to having someone touch me; it was a strange cross between intimacy and clinical professionalism.
“Have you done this before?” My curiosity overruled my embarrassment.
“Yes, I trained to be a nurse before a teacher and spent a few years in a trauma department so I’ve seen this kind of thing before.” She said.
“Why did you decide to change to teaching?” I asked.
“Oh… It was very stressful job. I don’t think I could have handled it long term. I saw a lot of… bad things.”
I knew about ‘bad things’. I could imagine what it was like being in a place like that. Everyone who was dying, who was hurt, being sent to the same place in the hope that something could be done to fix them. How many times did someone just bleed out before even getting there? I wondered if that man had even been taken or if they just dumped his body in the river…
“It wasn’t that bad, I did get to help some people. I made some friends, like Jack, who you saw yesterday.” She said, picking up on my downturn in mood.
I tried to smile at her so she didn’t think I wasn’t happy but I got a stab of pain as a reward causing me to wince. Wincing also hurt. Goddamn face. “About that… I can’t pay you back right now. I can save up some money but-”
“He didn’t charge me Alexis.” She said, cutting me short.
“But…” I tried to remember what had happened but it was like looking through frosted glass. “I had a scan didn’t I? Don’t those things cost thousands?”
“They charge thousands, it doesn’t cost them thousands.”
“It was out of hours too, the place was closed.” I was speaking fast, why would someone not charge for that?
“He said it was easier like that anyway, there are no records he’d have to fudge. He was a friend Alexis. He did it as a favour to me. Anyway he’s not the kind of guy to turn down a kid who needs help.”
I didn’t really understand but I didn’t want to cause any trouble or get into an argument with her. I left it. Mz started to dab some of the cream on my face.
“This is healing really well you know, remarkably well. Better than I thought it would be. No sign of infection, it’s not even swelling up much. The skin is starting to bond together.” She said. “In a day or two I’ll leave it off to let it dry out.”
I wasn’t sure what I could say in reply to that, I just shrugged while trying not to move too much which wasn’t easy.
There was a silence while she cut a new compress and dressed my wound.
I spent the rest of the night dozing off and drinking water, being far thirstier than usual. The TV droned on, my eyes half closed and my brain somewhere between asleep and awake. Mz Gregory sat in silence. After I awoke with a start for the third time she asked if I wanted to go to bed.
She was letting me stay. I had guessed she would but I wasn’t sure. I knew I wasn’t going to take the bed again though.
She didn’t agree, and kept coming up with logical reasons for me not to sleep on the sofa. How it might stress the wound on my back not being able to lie completely flat, that I didn’t want to bug the nice doctor any more. How she would be getting up in the morning and would wake me up getting ready. How it wouldn’t be good for my ribs…
In no fit state to come up with any decent counter-arguments, and under the relentless assault of logic I conceded. She went to get herself some clothes to wear in the morning for work and made sure I had some water by the bedside.
It was very strange.
I really did wonder why she cared so much… I mean, there must be some reason surely?
It didn’t take me long to forget about it and drift off.